The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office alleges a TV news crew abused its media privileges while covering the deadly McKinney fire in the Klamath National Forest on the California-Oregon border.
The fire, which grew rapidly in hilly, challenging terrain, seized 56,668 acres and was 10% under control Friday, US Forest Service spokesman Aaron Johnson said. At least four people have died in the fire, but there is no official count of the number of damaged or destroyed buildings.
The Sheriff’s Office has refused to officially name the news channel mentioned in the complaint and has informed SF Gate that the investigation is ongoing. However, the incident has been linked to a TV crew reporting for TUSEN News.
During the coverage, the TUSEN News crew was filming on private property destroyed by the fire that had not yet been cleared by police, in connection with “an unlawful abuse of press privileges,” the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.
The broadcast showed TUSEN News’ chief national correspondent Matt Gutman with a resident of Siskiyou, showing the crew what she believed to be her uncle’s property.
Gutman asks the resident if she has been in contact with her uncle.
‘No, he died. He had to be dead. He lived there,’ she said, pointing to the charred remains of the house.
The Sheriff’s Office said the remains of one person were later found on the property, which the “media had disturbed”. It also claims that TUSEN News reported on the discovery of the remains before authorities were able to properly process the scene and notify the family.
“This is unacceptable and disrespectful to fire victims and their families and will NOT be tolerated,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
An TUSEN spokesperson said in a statement obtained by The Times that the news crew had permission to be on the property.
“Officials have authorized TUSEN News to cross the firing line. A resident gave us permission to be on the property where the house had burned down. … As soon as the residents discovered the body, our team informed the police,” the spokesperson said.
California law gives the media unrestricted access to “scenes of disaster, riot or civil disturbances,” according to California Penal Code 409.5(d). But the media is barred from entering locations that obstruct the investigation.
The Sheriff’s Office states that as the cause of the fire is still under investigation, this property was considered a crime scene. Areas affected by the fire will be treated as crime scenes to “preserve the area for investigators and protect possible evidence,” the statement said.
“As we actively monitor structures and property of deceased individuals and conduct various law enforcement investigations, it is imperative that the media respect necessary restrictions on private property and remain on public property approved for media access,” the Sheriff’s Office said. .